Foreign Corporation Primer: Register before filing suit

One important but often overlooked provision of Ohio corporate law is the requirement that “foreign corporations” (meaning any corporation established outside the state of Ohio) must obtain a license to transact business within the state of Ohio when doing business in Ohio.

No foreign corporation. . .shall transact business in this state unless it holds an unexpired and uncanceled license to do so issued by the secretary of state. To procure such a license, a foreign corporation shall file an application, pay a filing fee, and comply with all other requirements of law respecting the maintenance of the license as provided in those sections.

R.C. 1703.03.

Although a failure to obtain a license does not invalidate any contracts a foreign corporation enters into in Ohio, a lack of registration means that a foreign corporation cannot maintain a lawsuit in Ohio courts.

The failure of any corporation to obtain a license…does not affect the validity of any contract with such corporation, but no foreign corporation that should have obtained such license shall maintain any action in any court until it has obtained such license. Before any such corporation shall maintain such action on any cause of action arising at the time when it was not licensed to transact business in this state, it shall pay to the secretary of state a forfeiture of two hundred fifty dollars and file in the secretary of state’s office the papers required by divisions (B) or (C) of this section, whichever is applicable.

R.C. 1703.29.

A similar provision for foreign limited liability companies is located at R.C. 1705.58.

This is a common provision throughout the United States. In Kentucky the requirement is codified at Kentucky Revised Statute 14.9-20.

A recent Hamilton County Court of Appeals case highlights the importance of licensing your foreign corporation. In LV REIS, Inc. v. Hamilton County Board of Reviison, et al., C-160732. the First District Court of Appeals upheld the Common Pleas Court’s dismissal of a case brought by a Nevada corporation that had failed to register with the state before filing a Board of Revision appeal in the Common Pleas Court.

Had LVREIS been successful in the underlying case, it would have saved approximately $17,000 in property taxes per year – making the failure to register a costly oversight. It should be noted however, that even though the Common Pleas Court granted the motion to dismiss, it also provided some analysis of the merits of the appeal, suggesting that LVREIS would not have prevailed had the case been decided on the merits. 

If you are operating a foreign corporation or limited liability company in Ohio, this case should serve as a warning to make sure you’ve properly registered in every state in which you operate. If you are not currently registered in Ohio, you can register now.

For those involved in disputes with foreign entities corporations, this can be an important defense to raise in litigation, as even though a foreign corporation can cure the defect prospectively, the case law suggests that if an unregistered foreign corporation files suit but later registers with the state, such registration does not cure the lack of jurisdiction.

Contact Finney Law Firm for assistance with your corporate or property tax matter here.

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